Cover Story

Outside the camp

"Outside the camp" Continued...

Issue: "De-coding Morsi," July 28, 2012

Gendy acknowledged he didn't know what the Brotherhood would do, or whether they would keep their pledges: "We have no guarantees. We are just adding moral pressure to them so that one day we can make them accountable."

Half a world away, Coptic Christians in the United States wonder if the Brotherhood aims for accountability at all. At a June conference on Capitol Hill of the Virginia-based group Coptic Solidarity, the tone of the meeting was lament over Morsi's election. "In a word, it's a disaster," said board member Halim Meawad.

Meawad, 70, fled Egypt more than 43 years ago during Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime. (He worried his political activism had endangered his freedom.) He became a U.S. citizen, but still advocates for Egyptian Christians and minorities.

Meawad worries that an Islamist parliament and president pose an imminent danger for Christians, and says: "They [the Muslim Brotherhood] see democracy as a ladder. Once they reach where they're going, they're going to burn the ladder."

Those fears-together with the violence and significant human-rights abuses in Egypt over the last year-have led some Christians and others to question the Obama administration's ongoing aid to the Egyptian government.

The U.S. Congress voted last year to place conditions on U.S. aid to the Egyptian military, including requirements that the Egyptian government meet a slate of pro-democracy standards.

After a series of Egyptian crackdowns on pro-democracy groups in Cairo, including charges made against 16 Americans, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angered some lawmakers and human-rights activists by waiving the conditions for economic aid in March.

Despite the Egyptian government's failure to meet the conditions, the Obama administration released $1.3 billion to the Egyptian military. (The administration said the aid helped protect U.S. security interests in the region.)

If activists were concerned about releasing aid to Egypt's military, they're now concerned about continuing that aid to a country under Muslim Brotherhood leadership.

Indeed, some are alarmed at the Obama administration's interaction with the Brotherhood over the last year, and say White House officials are overlooking the Muslim Brotherhood's past connections to terrorism and its current Islamist ambitions.

The U.S.-based group Investigative Project on Terrorism describes the Muslim Brotherhood this way: "The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 with the goal of establishing a worldwide Islamic state through jihad and martyrdom. The group is considered the parent of all Sunni terrorist groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad."

White House officials met with a delegation of Muslim Brotherhood members in April. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said "mid-level" officials from the National Security Council met with Brotherhood members to engage Egypt's "emerging political actors." Sondos Asem, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation, told The Washington Post that the group represents "a moderate, centrist Muslim viewpoint."

During the same week, Khairat al Shater, at that time the Brotherhood's presidential candidate, told a meeting of the Religious Association for Rights and Reform in Cairo: "Sharia was and will always be my first and final project and objective."

The Egyptian electoral commission eventually disqualified Shater (and 10 other candidates) from the presidency. But Shater remains a central leader in the Brotherhood, and his views are key to understanding the group's political ambitions.

In March, Shater told The New York Times that the Brotherhood believes that Islam requires democracy, and that the group would uphold democratic ideals. But the group's English-language website has stated that the Western concept of "secular liberal democracy" is undemocratic because it excludes religion in public life.

Shater said: "The Islamic reference point regulates life in its entirety, politically, economically, and socially-we don't have this separation between religion and government."

The newly elected president Morsi has been less verbose in his political philosophy, but in 2007 he led a committee that wrote the Brotherhood's political platform. The principles included appointing Islamic clerics to review legislation to conform civil laws to Islamic law.

Morsi also said he would press the United States to release Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Egyptian-born Islamic cleric serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison for his role in planning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Those circumstances led to a heated question-and-answer session at the Coptic Solidarity conference when Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner addressed the crowd late last month.

Nearly a dozen audience members lined up at a microphone in the packed conference room and drilled Posner with rapid-fire questions: "Why did the American government give the green light for the Muslim Brotherhood to take over Egypt?" "How can we support a group that is the mother of all terrorist groups?" "What real actions are you going to take?"

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